It’s one thing to envision the perfect scenario for how something special should end.
Making it happen is the real challenge, although West High senior Ashlynn Yokom made that look easy Thursday.
Yokom had two goals entering the Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi Division cross country meet. She wanted to defend her individual title while helping her young squad win the team title after coming up short last season.
It was mission accomplished on both fronts.
Yokom broke from the pack early and cruised to a victory in a blazing time of 14 minutes, 7 seconds, which set a record for the Ashton Cross Country Course. It was Yokom’s second fastest time ever, eclipsed only by her runner-up finish at least year’s state meet when she was clocked in 13:56.
Yokom was among five West runners to finish in the top 11, with three of them freshmen, including twin sisters Jessie and Gabby Skopec. Jessie and her older sister, Emmie Skopec, who is a junior, finished sixth and seventh, respectively. Freshmen Olivia Moore and Gabby Skopec were ninth and 11th.
“It was my last time running on this course, so it’s been really emotional,” Yokom said. “We didn’t win the conference meet last year. So I knew as a team this year we could get it. We were out here on our course together. So, I’m really proud of them and I couldn’t be with a better team.”
West edged Cedar Rapids Kennedy for the girls team title by eight points.
City High finished in fourth place with 85 points, powered by Mollie Shepherd and Mary Arch finishing in fourth and fifth place, respectively.
Dubuque Hempstead nipped City by five points for the boys team title, while West finished in third place. Hempstead’s Jonathan Specht captured individual honors with a time of 15:43.3.
West senior Daniel Gardarsson finished in third place in 16:00.2, while his junior teammate, Akash Borde, finished two spots behind Gardarsson with a time of 16:07.
Gardarsson said he used the wrong strategy for the race.
“It’s a little disappointing,” he said. “I went in with a winning attitude and just made a move too early and kind of paid for it. And he got me at the end.”
Gardarsson made his move with about a half mile left in the 5-kilometer race. Asked when he should have made his move, Gardarrson said: “As late as possible. I just didn’t have enough. I should have saved it for the end.”
Senior Ryan Dorman led a trio of Little Hawk runners who finished in seventh, eighth and ninth place. Senior Chris Ohrt finished eighth and junior Jarrett Purdy finished ninth.
“I’m happy with it,” Dorman said. “Obviously, we wanted to try to get Hempstead, also, but we’re happy with getting second.”
The Ashton course serves as West’s home course. It’s where the boys and girls practice and train on a daily basis. It’s where Yokom grew into an elite runner.
“We train on it. We practice on it. So we know it by heart,” Yokom said. “We should be able to do really well, and we did.”
Yokom’s time Thursday was nine seconds faster than she had ever run on the course.
“When I was out there running, I knew I was pushing myself a lot more than I had before on this course,” she said.
In addition to her course-record time, Yokom’s timing was good too, considering that the University of Missouri had coaches present at the meet, West coach Mike Parker said.
“When they make the drive, you better show them and she clearly did,” Parker said. “The Missouri coaches came down today and they’re on the top of her list right now and I’m sure they’re very excited about what they saw. I know we are. That was an amazing effort. She led her team to the conference title, so that’s awesome.”
Up next for both the boys and girls are the district and regional meets next week.
Parker likes that his young team is peaking at the right time.
“We expect this time of the year to be at our best, not that we ever want to give up any titles early in the year,” Parker said. “We train really hard. We load up. And when we get to this time of the year, we expect do well.
“We had three freshmen in our top five today on the varsity side that ran lights out, lifetime bests. So when we have our freshmen girls clicking like that and Ashlynn doing something really well and Emmie Skopec leading her twin sisters really well, this is where we want to be.”
Team scores – 1. Dubuque Hempstead 48, 2. City High 53; 3. West High 53; 4. Dubuque Senior 66; 5. Cedar Rapids Kennedy 150; 6. Cedar Rapids Jefferson 171; 7. Waterloo East 225.
Individual leaders – 1. Jonathan Specht, Dubuque Hempstead, 15:43.3; 2. Fairley, Dubuque Senior, 15:56.8; 3. Daniel Gardarsson, West High, 16:00.2; 4. Joe Meehan, Dubuque Hempstead, 16:05.4; 5. Akash Borde, West High, 16:07.0.
City High – 7. Ryan Dorman, 16:18.9; 8. Chris Ohrt, 16:22.6; 9. Jarrett Purdy, 16:29.1; 13. Patrick Cyubahiro, 16:39.6; 16. Rasheem Shivers, 16:42.1; 17. Joel Bender, 16:45.8; 21. Matthew Dodge, 16:52.9.
West High – 3. Gardarsson; 5. Borde; 12. Karanja Wynton, 16:35.0; 14. Ali Abdalla, 16:40.1; 19. Nick Feeley, 16:47.4; 25. Matthew Schneider, 16:58.9; 31. Noah Brase, 17:36.7.
Coach of the Year – Mark Ressler, Dubuque Hempstead.
Athlete of the Year – Jonathan Specht, Dubuque Hempstead.
All-academic – City High: Joseph Arch, Talbot Morris-Downing; West High: Jonathan Ealy, Daniel Gardarsson.
Team scorres – 1. West High 34; 2. Cedar Rapids Kennedy 42; 3. Dubuque Senior 72; 4. City High 85; 5. Cedar Rapids Jefferson 139; 6. Dubuque Hempstead 140; 7. Waterloo East 212.
Individual leaders – 1. Ashlynn Yokom. West, 14:07.0; 2. Alyssa Averhoff, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, 14:43.4; 3. Allison Culver, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, 14:45.6; 4. Mollie Shepherd, City, 14:47.6; 5. Mary Arch, City, 14:49.1.
West High – 1. Yokom; 6. Jessie Skopec, 14:59.9; 7. Emmie Skopec, 15:00.6; 9. Olivia Moore, 15:20.1; 11. Gabby Skopec, 15:25.5; 24. Emily Starman, 15:52.4; 27. Michelle Wise, 15:59.3.
City High – 4. Shepherd; 5. Arch; 21. Fanta Traore, 15:48.3; 26. Celeste Chadwick, 15:58.3; 29. Olivia Peterson, 16:07.9; 35. Mary Rethwisch, 16:57.8; 39. Leah Hoelscher, 17:24.7.
Coach of the Year – Mike Parker, West High.
Athlete of the Year – Ashlynn Yokum, West High.
City High: Ellie Benson, Emma Greimann, Leah Hoelscher, Mary Rethwisch; West High: Payton Knupp, Kelcie Kraft Emily Starman, Emilia Szmyrgala.